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Online Porn Mars Va. Laptop Program

December 7, 2001

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Pride over a deal to provide laptop computers to every high school student in a suburban district has turned to embarrassment after dozens of youngsters were found to have downloaded hard-core pornography.

Graphic sexual images have been deleted from many of the Apple iBooks that were issued to Henrico County’s 11,800 high school students this year.

When the $18.5 million, four-year deal to lease the computers was announced last spring, Superintendent Mark A. Edwards said it would provide a ``vibrant, engaged-type of learning that will enhance the learning process.″

Seven months later, district officials say 50 to 60 students have been disciplined for using the hardware to access porn. A first offense generally results in a 10-day suspension.

``We knew there would be challenges, but we still see the benefits every day for children throughout the community,″ Edwards said Thursday. ``Obviously, we’re paying very careful attention to this.″

He emphasized that an overwhelming majority of students have used the laptops responsibly.

Edwards said the county has one of the best Internet filtering systems on the market. However, the filter does not block access to Web sites unless there is a reference to sex in the address or the site’s text.

School officials already had planned to collect the laptops for a memory upgrade during Christmas break. Now they plan to add security features to make it more difficult for students to download porn, Edwards said.

He said parents also must do their part in monitoring their children’s Internet use. For the most part, he said, parents ``have been very responsive.″

Some parents, however, have criticized the county’s actions.

``We were controlling it in the house and then they suddenly introduced these new computers,″ John Curran told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. ``We have given them adult equipment _ tools. We have given them to kids who are using them as toys. We’re passing it down the line to kids who aren’t quite ready to use it and they’re going ape.″

Edwards agreed that the computers are adult tools but said students must learn to use them responsibly.

``A good corollary is that when a student drives a car recklessly, it’s not the car’s fault,″ he said. ``If a student is reckless with this tool, the student needs to be held accountable.″

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